Status Report on my Novel

I got some feedback on my novel this weekend, my 2006 NaNoWriMo effort that I’ve been trying to polish over the last 8 months or so. It came from an industry insider who kindly agreed to read the first few chapters. There were definitely some things I need to work on, but perhaps most important it confirmed a suspicion that the young adult genre might be a good fit.

I like to chafe at genre limitations as much as the next person, but in reality genres just make things easier to categorize, sell and ultimately read. So you might as well get used to it. If you want readers, you’re going to have to deal with genre.

So I spent some time at Barnes & Noble yesterday, trying to embrace the YA genre. I think it might be a good fit. I’m actually a big fan of kids books and young adults novels, though they’re not always branded with the YA tag. Harry Potter, Madeleine L’Engle, the Chronicles of Narnia, The Phantom Tollbooth, Louis Sachar (Holes), Jerry Spinelli (I love Stargirl and the sequel), James Howe, Nick Hornby’s Slam. There’s quite a bit in this genre I resonate with, perhaps because YA novels frequently deal with the teen perspective of coming to terms with life and finding your place in the world. Those are big themes. But it’s all drenched in the drama, angst and immediacy of the now. Teens see broken things in the world and don’t accept them as they are. They want to fix them, and fix them now. That’s inspiring.

It also helps that American culture celebrates a perpetual adolescence.

I don’t think my novel will need any work to fit this genre (famous last words), which is encouraging. I didn’t set out to write it for teens but it may unintentionally be a good fit. Which may mean I have a good grasp on the genre (‘it’s not about reading level, it’s about perspective.’ quoth an acquiring editor). Of course I do need to figure out how my suicide story is unique in the teen marketplace, which will require some more research.

And that’s where genre starts to feel overwhelming. It’s like diving into another culture, another world, trying to familiarize yourself with titles and authors and publishing houses and blogs. Sometimes I wish my cultures would overlap a bit and make things easier, but that doesn’t seem to be the case (and yes, my words about being obsessive are haunting me—I feel like I’m spread too thin to be successful).

At any rate, it’s progress. I still need to dive into the edits and start reading some current YA books to get a better feel for the market. Maybe at some point this year I’ll be ready to start sending it to agents or publishers. After all this I’m starting to see why most authors have day jobs.

4 thoughts on “Status Report on my Novel”

  1. Ooh, ooh! And I just saw tonight that Oscar Hijuelos has a YA novel out. I love Oscar Hijuelos. His writing is great, but it’s just fun to say his name: Oscar Hijuelos.

  2. I’ve been reading a bit in YA recently. The genre is definitely full of possibilities, and a novel about about suicide won’t seem that radical. (As I remember it, the way you approach it is less stark than Thirteen Reasons Why.) Indeed, if you aren’t writing about vampires or sci-fi or wealthy socialites, then tackling a “dark” subject is probably the way to go.

    If you’re interested in a good book with a teen protagonist that fits the YA mold but is marketed as general fiction, see Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld.

    And a YA book I read this fall that is one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time is The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. It’s a must-read.

  3. Interesting comments, Tim. Turns out I just finished Thirteen Reasons Why and I picked up The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian at the library on Monday. I’ll have to check out Prep. Thanks.

  4. I’ve read Prep. I got it about 3 years ago. It’s a pretty good book. Dark but good. As I recall, Kevin declared it “chic lit” and didn’t want to read it.

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